North Korea

The Interview: Political Satire Has Rarely Ever Been So 'Meh'


The Interview, the most controversial movie of the year, the ribald satire that ratcheted up tensions with a nuclear-armed psycho-state, the film that taught Barack Obama free expression is worth defending even in the face of vague threats by faceless terrorists, is a mildly and intermittently amusing experience at best. 

In case you are unaware of the premise, per

Cool story, bro.

Dave Skylark and producer Aaron Rapoport run the celebrity tabloid show "Skylark Tonight." When they land an interview with a surprise fan, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, they are recruited by the CIA to turn their trip to Pyongyang into an assassination mission.

As a Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg joint (SPOILERS AHEAD), you know it's going to have its share of casual drug use, homoerotic prop humor, ironic spasms of ultraviolence, and a bromantic ending. But other than a few scattered references to "concentration camps, famine and firing squads," the horrors of North Korea are seldom mentioned and never seen.

But that's okay, it's a comedy right? About that. 

Seth Rogen delivers a reliably funny and affable performance as Rapoport, a TV producer who once harbored aspirations to participate in the "serious journalism" game. He curses, he overreacts, he makes fun of himself, and is generally a sympathetic figure when trying to manage Skylark (played by James Franco), the vapid and bombastic host of his own entertainment interview show.

Rogen and Franco have performed together in numerous productions going all the way back to 1999's cult classic show Freaks and Geeks, but here they seem to be performing in different movies. It's hard to know if co-director Rogen deserves the blame for this, but Franco's decision to play Skylark as "Jim Carrey meets Lothario" never works, is always distracting, and frequently puts the brakes on any comedic momentum the movie seems to be building toward. 

The film takes an interesting turn (MAJOR SPOILERS COMING) when Rapoport is seduced by a gorgeous North Korean propaganda officer who convinces the American duo that Kim is a replaceable figurehead. What the North Koreans really need, she tells them, is to see Kim and his cult of personality unmasked as the cowardly frauds they are. Skylark accepts that he has been a fraud as a journalist himself, and promises to learn some facts about Kim to use against him in a devastating televised interview. But then they kill him anyway with his own tank after Kim reacts violently, triggering a bloodbath, a ticking-bomb countdown, and the requisite chase scene. 

As light entertainment, particularly for those with a favorable view of Apatow-ian humor, The Interview has a few genuine laughs, and despite more false endings than the heavily-referenced Lord of the Rings, moves along breezily. 

As political satire, it's toothless and aimless. The Interview never promises you it's going to be Dr. Strangelove, but I guess I was hoping Rogen would satirize Stalinist totalitarianism with the same rapier wit he used to goof on himself and his self-important Hollywood friends in last year's hit This Is the End.

You will not find me among the conspiracy theorists positing that the whole "Sony hack/email leak/terrorist threat" was an elaborate hoax perpetrated to generate buzz for The Interview. Despite dominating the news cycle for the past week and pulling in $1 million in it's on demand release, Sony is still expected to lose tens of millions on the film and its wishy-washy reactions to the threats have throughly damaged the corporation's reputation.

That said, this uneven film with fewer laughs than the average South Park episode is now a cultural touchstone because of a still unfolding political soap opera whose ending has not yet been written

NEXT: Cathy Young on the Stumbling Crusade Against 'Rape Culture'

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  1. This movie is like the Blair Witch Project of politics.

    1. Blair Witch didn’t cost 50 million to make

      1. In politics, $100,000 worth of results costs 50 million too.

  2. I watched it. It was mostly meh, a few good laugh out loud moments. There was no edge to it, but I thought they pretty unapologetically eventually landed on Kim being a complete fucking psychopath. Also, the propaganda officer is smoking hot. It also could have been easily 20 minutes shorter, if not more.

    1. Many, many movies these days are edited far too generously. In the glory days of Hollywood, they’d have thought you were crazy if you made a comedy that was much more than 90 minutes.

      1. There were never any glory days of Hollywood.

        1. Not an old movie fan, eh?

          1. I didn’t say anything like that. There are plenty of excellent movies made before I was born. But if “glory days” merely means “when they made good movies,” then the glory days were in the 80s, and the 90s, and right now.

            1. I think if you said: *the glory days of television are today* you’d be right. But movies? Nah.

              1. I imagine the ratio of bad movies to good movies to great movies is about the same today as it has ever been. It’s just that we have already forgotten the garbage of the past while we still enjoy the greats.

                Someday great movies like Moon and Speed Racer will rightly be regarded as timeless classics, while trash like Avatar will be propping up short table legs and wedging doors open.

                1. Eh, you’re right, I guess. It’s just weird how tv, and movies have evolved. Tv is MUCH better now than 50 years ago.

                  1. I’d take 1964 Mary Tyler Moore over any chick on Game of Scones.

                    1. Ahh, good taste.

            2. The glory days of American film, in my humble opinion, occurred in the 70s–as exemplified by The Godfather, Taxi Driver, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Star Wars, Alien, and The Shining (to name a few). I was a baby when The Shining was still in theaters, so it can’t be just nostalgia. Something about the raw, elegant coolness of that era–The French Connection, Dog Day Afternoon, etc.–sets it completely apart.

              1. 70s onward up until the mid -2000s, IMO.

                Amadeus, Aliens, The Shining (was made in 1980) , Die Hard, Ghostbusters – lots of great comedies came out of the 80s. Moonstruck.

                90s had Tarantino’s best, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs.
                The Coen Brothers, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, Raising Airzona (actually that was 1987).

                Things just started going downhill in the last couple of years because of Netflix and the television renaissance. The studios fucked themselves by being unable to adapt to streaming video.

                1. But Hollywood has definitely picked up major speed in their downward spiral towards utterly mindless nihilism (if they’re not already there) just in the last ten years.

                  When I look at some of the movies from the early 2000’s (Gladiator, Alexander) they are epic masterpieces compared to the mindless leftoid stoner nihilism of Apatow and Rogen & Co.

      2. You Can’t Take It With You, the Best Picture of 1938 and one of the underrated comedies of all time, clocks in at a svelte 126 minutes.

        1. OK, but that was an exception.

          1. Its opening day would mark the glory day of movies.

            1. Yes, to me the golden age of Hollywood was from about the mid-’30s through World War II.

              1. That was the era with the highest cinema viewership.

    2. When I read the review, I need to find out who the actress is who plays her.

      1. Why read the review:

        Who wouldn’t want to “bang” her?

        1. My vote for better ironic casting would be Ally Maki (Joyce Kim) of “Big Bang Theory” fame.

    3. “the propaganda officer is smoking hot.”

      You must have some sort Asian fetish. In South Korea (one that’s slightly more free than the northern one), “Diana Bang” would be a prime candidate for plastic surgery.

      In NK she would be doing something like this

  3. Good review. I figured the movie would generate laughs… I do find your characterization of the way Franco plays his part interesting. I’ll definitely see this movie, but it’ll be through whatever channel(s) I can get it after all the hubbub as died down.

    Frankly, given all the bullshit surrounding it, it deserves to the comedy of a generation.

  4. As political satire, it’s toothless and aimless. The Interview never promises you it’s going to be Dr. Strangelove, but I guess I was hoping Rogen would satirize Stalinist totalitarianism with the same rapier wit he used to goof on himself and his self-important Hollywood friends in last year’s hit This Is the End.

    “Sounds like your problem”, as they say.

    I would write something broader about reviewers being annoying, but I’ve gotta run.

    1. Eh, considering that the film actually uses Kim Jong-Un, kills him off, the whole theme of Franco’s character realizing that that Kim is a scumbag and Rogen was talking about this film causing a revolution in North Korea even before the hacking it’s not unfair to criticize the film for lack of bite since they were the ones trying to turn it into a Message movie in the first place.

      1. There is a silver lining of sorts to this movie, along the lines of what you observed.

        Skylark did not fall for the honeydicking like Sean Penn, Jack Nicholson, Oliver Stone, or numerous other celebrities do in real life. The puppy didn’t even work on him!

  5. I feel like there’s been a weird mixture where something that was never really trying to be anything other than a standard Rogen/Franco movie now has the expectations of being biting political satire due to the circumstances of its release. So when it’s a….standard Rogen/Franco comedy, the reviews are particularly harsh for not being what they illogically expected in the first place.

    I thought it was okay, though yeah nothing great.

    1. Except they tried to make the Interview into a Message Movie about North Korea. So it is their fault if they tried to turn this movie into something more then a “standard Rogen/Franco movie” and failed at it.

      1. Winston|12.26.14 @ 8:34PM|#
        “Except they tried to make the Interview into a Message Movie about North Korea.”…

        I hadn’t seen anything pitching it as other than a comedy prior to the hack, but then I hadn’t seen much at all about it.
        Any links on the ‘message’ pitch?

        1. No actually I think they are right, except that the “message” isn’t intended for Americans, it is intended for North Koreans.

          Try watching the film while imagineing what you would think of it if you were a North Korean.

          A LOT of it is jokes about how Kim Jon Un isn’t a God. Like the recurring riff on how the state media once claimed that Kim Jong Il did not defecate or piss.

          Also, I think the dated cultural references (LOTR, Eminem) are intentional because the North Koreans aren’t going to “get” jokes with more recent references. I bet LOTR is hugely popular in N. Korea.

  6. Be careful.

    Swallowing a hook, line and sinker isn’t too bad … until it comes time to shit them out.

  7. I watched until the CIA was showing the presentation of how they wanted Kim Jong-un to be killed. I turned it off since Franco’s character “Skylark” became juvenile to the point of absurdity. I felt embarrassed viewing that tripe.

    1. I felt embarrassed viewing that tripe

      You then switch over to old VCR tapes of Masterpiece Theatre?

      Good lord Mr Ebert, what did you expect?

    2. Juvenile to the point of absurdity is exactly the impression I got of real people, with real media jobs in the DC area when they go out to socialize or bang keys for their blogs.

  8. Setting aside the quality of its humor, which isn’t my cup of tea either, I think you’re being too harsh on the substance of it. The depiction of the psychology of a cult of personality and dictatorship wasn’t really that bad and ended up being pretty harsh, and the rebuke from Kim that “America has more people per capita in prison” surely deserves an honorable mention from reason. And that they didn’t actually see concentration camps and people starving or being tortured was part of the point- it was seeing the (literal and metaphorical) facade of lies revealed that turned the Franco character on Kim.

    Is it a great all-time American film classic? Hell no. Do I hope the announced plans go forward to launch copies of it on balloons and the like into North Korea? Hell yes. For what they set out to do- use their usual vehicle to mock the North Korean cult of personality- they accomplished it fairly well. I hope the film gets a very wide distribution on the North Korean black market, and that’s the angle I would expect reason to play up given their past coverage of NK, not jumping on the It-wasn’t-something-it-never-intended-to-be bandwagon. The point was to make the Kim dynasty look like fools, which is an eminently commendable public service that they pulled off acceptably well.

    1. Yes, given that the film has already been bootlegged in china, I have no doubt that there are balloons with thumb drives with The Interview on them floating over North Korea as we speak.

  9. And yes, the Skylark character was insufferable and over-played, but was also inseparable from the basic premise of the film. What did you expect, a Walter Cronkite send-up? His shallow naivete was the vehicle to set up Kim as an initially-sympathetic character.

    1. It didn’t have to be _so_ textbook and 2-dimensional though. It seems Franco’s best at playing an idiot opposite a semi-bumbling friend/sidekick that generally elevates the dialog just above Dumb-and-Dumber quality.

    2. He should have done more of a Leslie Nielsen take on the character: less broad, more self-important. There’d still be room for silliness, but the contrast would make it funnier. And maybe it’s my own age, but those two characters supposedly worked together for 10 years? Did they start when they were 16? (Yeah, I know they’re a bit older, but still.)

      1. Franco is 36. 26 is not an early but not implausible age for somebody to start on the show his character is shown having. Rogen is 32, which would roughly fit with the description given of his character starting producing for Skylark right out of college ten years prior.

        1. *is an early but not implausible age, rather

      1. I must have faled to close an HTML tag: Walter Cronkie was insufferable and over-played.

    3. For this movie, the Cronkite character was Bill Maher. Interesting how standards shift over time.

  10. “it’s toothless and aimless. “

    Every single review of this film has been univocal in its failure to even be bad. Its worse than that – its ‘not even wrong‘: apparently unworthy of all the attention that its received and having the appeal of a mostly-silent, synthetic-smelling, unfunny fart.

    it would almost be redeeming if it were as truly and awfully bad as, say, “Year 1

  11. OT: advance party of Reptilian Overlords shut down Xbox and playstation online. Kim Dot Com bribes them to stop.…..picks=true

    1. Conspiracy Theory = whole thing engineered up by Kim Dotcom for marketing purposes because he was inspired by the Sony Conspiracy Theory


      1. These are all faux-conspiracies developed by the guy on the grassy knoll and Elvis’ alien love child to hide the bigger conspiracy!
        IOWs, there is a meta-conspiracy, and if you can’t find it only means they’re very good at it!

  12. Sounds like a pretty solid plan dude.

  13. Just got back from seeing it and it was enjoyable (being at Alamo Drafthouse helped). Then again Pineapple Express is a favorite of mine and it wasn’t as good.

    And well, as much as I love South Park, this line:

    That said, this uneven film with fewer laughs than the average South Park episode is now a cultural touchstone because of a still unfolding political soap opera whose ending has not yet been written.

    generally isn’t true these days.

    Also, Alamo played North Korean TV and film clips beforehand which were pretty funny themselves.

  14. I thought James Franco played his part perfectly. And even if he didn’t, the exchange between him and President Obacco was very funny.…

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  17. This is the only Seth Rogen movie I’ve seen, and based on this datum, I won’t be seeking out any of his other work.


    1. Pineapple Express was better.

    2. Not that you’ll ever see this, but you should definitely watch Observe and Report. Don’t let Rogen’s presence fool you. It’s not his usual crap.

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  20. They should add a few lines to Kim in the movie. Maybe have him say “Obama always goes reckless in words and deeds like a monkey in a tropical forest,” or is that too crazy?

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    And the writing underneath the actors’ names says “Don’t trust these ignorant Americans!”

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